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Alberni Museum gifted with Group of Seven artwork

Patron donates Group of Seven painting, second Emily Carr piece
Alberni Valley Museum collections curator Kirsten Smith explains some detail of a new Emily Carr illustrated poem to David Wiwchar of 93.3 The PEAK.

The Alberni Valley Museum has aquired two important pieces of artwork from a private donor in Tofino.

Museum manager Jamie Morton and collections curator Kirsten Smith this week unveiled an untitled oil-on-panel from Arthur Lismer (1885–1969), one of the founding members of the Group of Seven, as well as an illustrated poem from famed British Columbia artist Emily Carr (1871–1945).

“It’s our first Group of Seven painting and we think it’s spectacular to have it in our regional museum,” Morton said of the Lismer painting.

Lismer was known in his early career for his sweeping landscapes, but later in life concentrated on detail. The untitled oil-on-panel depicts a tightly framed, close-up composition of the ocean floor or a tidal pool that Smith surmised was painted in the 1940s or 1950s.

“He travelled out to Long Beach regularly after 1951 and…did these little seascapes,” Morton explained. Lismer painted similar seascapes from the Bay of Fundy in the Maritimes on the east coast, but the sea life in this untitled piece can reasonably be from the west coast, he said.

Carr was known for her modern approach to depicting the BC landscape, and was often associated with the Group of Seven, considered Canada’s first national art movement, though she was never officially a member. She was also an author, having received the Governor-General’s Award for non-fiction in 1941.

The poem unveiled last week shows Carr’s more quirky side: it’s about a dead rat. “It was done with a young student, Carol Williams (later Carol Pearson), in her art school, which was one of the ways (Carr) made money,” Morton said. It was initially thought that Williams had illustrated the poem, but more study showed that many of the illustrations were in fact done by Carr herself.

“She did this kind of thing for her friends and family” and also cartooned for Vancouver papers during the First World War, Morton said.

“There’s a nice local connection for both of these artists,” he said.

Carr made multiple trips to the west coast of Vancouver Island and often stayed at Klitsa Lodge in the 1920s and ’30s in the Alberni Valley.

The late Robert Aller, a famous painter from Port Alberni, studied under Lismer when he was a young man. Aller often accompanied Lismer on sketching trips to Long Beach, and Lismer’s influence can be seen in Aller’s work as well as his dedication to teaching children.

The new pieces came from well-known Canadian art collector Ralph Tieleman, who wanted to share them with the community, Morton said.

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The two new pieces are valued at approximately $50,000 and will be part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Tieleman also donated the museum’s first Emily Carr piece, an oil-on-panel titled ‘Sproat Lake (Klitsa Mountain)’, in September 2014. ‘Sproat Lake’ was painted sometime between 1908 or 1909.

“It’s nice to have donors out there willing to contribute to our collection and great for the community as well,” Morton said. The Alberni Valley Museum has a vertical storage system for its art collection as well as an HVAC climate-controlled air system. “It is because we have appropriate exhibition and storage conditions, as well as professional staff to handle them” that Tieleman considered donating the artwork to the museum, he added.

The two new pieces of artwork will be on display at the museum from Feb. 21_25 to mark Heritage Week in the Alberni Valley.

Museum staff will give 15-minute mini-talks on the artwork Tuesday through Friday at 12:15 p.m. Carr’s ‘Sproat Lake’ is presently on display at the museum as part of the exhibit ‘Vacation Land’, an encore presentation of the exhibit.